Bringing Home a Shelter Dog and How to Avoid Common Mistakes

Most people can agree that bringing home a dog from a shelter is one of the best and most heartwarming experiences. You’ve helped rescue a dog and save his life. You’ve provided a homeless animal with a loving home and family. But what isn’t often discussed is how somewhere around 20% of shelter dogs are returned within the first month of coming home to a new family. Why is this? In part, it is often due to a few easy mistakes that new pet owners make when bringing home a new dog. Here are some tips to make the transition as smooth (and happy) as possible.

New home. New Rules. It’s easy to think that because your new pooch has been living in a shelter, you should allow her as much freedom as possible as she adjusts to her new life. But in actuality, it’s quite the opposite. Even the very first time your new dog enters your home is crucial. This is the moment when she looks to you to let her know what is going to be expected of her. If you simply unleash her and let her run wild, you may be sending a message to her that says ‘Here, go crazy! Do whatever you want.’ This is the time when you will be letting her know what the ground rules are. And believe it or not, dogs thrive in an environment that has clear boundaries.

Consider taking a walk. Before you even enter your home, perhaps take a walk around your block first. Get to know your new dog. Establish some of your first steps of being her leader. Not only will a short walk give her some time to calm down and work out some pent up excitement, but it will help show her that you are in charge. This time will give her some comfort as she also gets to know you.

Don’t be in a rush to unleash. Keep your dog leashed. Do not open the front door and let her run right in and begin running around. This is the time when her senses are on overload with all the new sights and smells. She’s anxious and nervous and wondering what is going to happen next. Assert your leadership by making her wait outside the front door. Even better if you can tell her to sit and wait. Whatever you do, make sure she waits to be invited in. Try to do this same thing as you explore the house with her leashed by your side. It may feel most natural to let her run free, sniffing and exploring her new home, but this is the time when she needs boundaries the most. Strong leadership and rules will give her a feeling of calm and control that will make her feel most secure.

Show her where her things are. Be sure to give her a tour of all of her things as well. Show her the water and food bowls. Introduce her to her bed. Show her where her basket of toys are. This will show her where the things that she’s allowed to play with are. Her bed is her safe place. A place that is only hers. She’ll know these are her toys to play with and that she’s not to chew up other things. She may not immediately wish to lay down or play with her toys, but this will help establish those boundaries.

Be calm. It may feel like now is the time to be excited and play with your new dog, but in actuality, now is the time to radiate calm energy. Keep her leashed for a while. Keep her by your side for a while as you go about typical activities. You are not only showing her that you are in charge, but you’re giving her comfort by keeping her with you at all times. Taking her outside frequently to go potty will help her learn where she’s supposed to go. If there are other family members in the home, remind them to also be calm. As the day goes on, you’ll find the right time to take off the leash and give her a little more room to roam. But maintain your leadership and her boundaries.

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